It’s the time of year where any and every bug you can catch makes itself known — cold and flu season. And I know what you’re thinking, any form of exercise is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling under the weather, but research has shown that it might actually help make you feel a little better.
“The body releases the stress hormone cortisol while it’s fighting infections like the common cold, and research suggests that stress-relieving techniques — such as yoga and breathing exercises — may help boost immunity,” Dr. Richard Besser told CNN. Plus, he added, gentle stretching may help relieve aches and pains related to colds and sinus infections.
Besser suggests determining whether or not you should exercise by using what he calls the neck rule: “If your symptoms are above the neck — sneezing, sinus pressure, stuffy nose — then breaking a sweat is generally considered safe.”
Of course, it is always best to listen to your body, but if you feel a cold coming, or are recovering from and/or trying to prevent the flu, here are seven immunity-boosting, gentle yoga poses that are safe for you to do.
P.S. Don’t forget to end your practice with a little (or big) “Om” — it’s a good way to open up clogged sinus passages.
Downward Facing Dog
Moves white blood cells through your body as well as drains the sinus passages.
From Mountain Pose (standing position), reach your hands down to the floor, bending your knees if need be. Walk your hands out about three to four feet in front of your toes. Pushing into your palms, lift your hips up toward the sky and press back into your heels, trying to get them flat to the ground. Keep your gaze toward your legs and continue pressing your chest toward your thighs to create a nice flat back.
Standing Forward Bend
Stretches hamstrings and back, alleviates anxiety, relieves headaches, improves digestion and quiets the mind.
Standing straight up, feet together, arms by your side, reach your hands up and overhead into a prayer position and then swan-dive your arms and chest down toward the ground. Put your fingertips to either side of your feet, and as you inhale, raise your head and chest up while keeping your fingertips on the floor, then slowly start to bring your chest in towards your knees.
If you have a hard time reaching your toes, put a little more bend in your knees until your hands are on the floor. Keep pressing your chin and chest in towards your knees and thighs for the maximum stretch. Remember to never lock your knees and always keep a slight bend in them to avoid injury.
Seated Forward Bend
Soothes headache and anxiety and reduces fatigue.
Sitting on your mat with your feet stretched out in front of you, reach your hands up toward the sky and begin to hinge forward at your hips, allowing your arms to drop toward the ground, reaching forward to your toes. When you can’t reach any further, plant your palms and lower your forehead down toward your legs with your nose toward your knees.
Seated Spinal Twist
Helps detoxify the body by getting things moving as well as activates the secondary organs of the immune system.
Sitting straight up with your feet extended out in front of you, bend your right knee and bring it in toward your chest, placing the heel as close to your body as you can. Then take your bent right leg and cross it over your left leg, pressing your right foot firmly into the ground. Either keep your left leg extended out in front of you, or for more of a twist, bend it underneath your body in the opposite direction. Place your right hand back behind your sit bones as you reach your left arm up to the sky, twisting it over to the right side as you bend your elbow and hook it on the outside of the right knee. Bring your gaze over your right shoulder and toward the back of the room. Repeat on the opposite side.
Bound Angle Pose
Stimulates the heart and improves general circulation and helps relieve mild depression, anxiety and fatigue.
Begin by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you. As you exhale, bend your knees and pull them in towards your chest, placing your feet flat on the floor. Pull the heels toward your pelvis, and then drop your knees out to the sides as you press the soles of your feet together. Keep the outer edges of the feet firmly on the floor as you grab hold of the toes, or clasp the hands around the ankles or shins, as you begin to press your elbows and forearms into your legs to lower the knees closer to the floor.
Stimulates thymus glands, which are a main immunity organ.
Lying flat on your back, arms by your sides, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor, bringing your heels as close to your bottom as you can. With your palms pressing into the floor, lift your hips off the ground and up towards the sky. Hold here for four to eight breaths, continuing to push through the feet and lifting the hips as high as you can, or choose to roll your shoulder blades underneath you, clasping your hands together to form a fist. When releasing, gently release your hands and slowly roll your spine back down to the floor, one vertebra at a time.
Legs Up the Wall
This gentle inversion helps lymph fluid and immune cells move through your body by increasing blood circulation. It also reduces back pain, insomnia and helps digestion.
Sit sideways next to a wall, placing your sit bones as close to the wall as you can, then lay down onto your back and straighten your legs up the wall, reaching your feet toward the ceiling for five minutes. You can keep your legs straight and together, or separate them into a V for five additional minutes. You can also choose to prop your head and chest above the pelvis with pillows or bolsters.
Originally published November 2015. Updated March 2020.